Do You Know What Yawning Signifies?

Do You Know What Yawning Signifies?

Last update: 25 March, 2018

Yawning is universal, timeless, and one of the most common expressions that exists. Physiological components are involved, but also emotional and social components. Until recently, we thought it signified one of three simple things: fatigue, appetite or boredom. However, research has shown that this is not entirely accurate.

Our culture has given a somewhat negative meaning to yawning in social situations. If you’re talking to someone and they start yawning, you may think they’re bored. Well, it has been discovered that this is not exactly the truth.

My caprice is smoking, women and yawning

-Gonzalo Escudero-

For one, you may have noticed that animals also yawn. Dogs, for example, yawn obviously when they’re hungry, but also when you’re spoiling them. The same happens with cats and other species. So then, what do yawns really mean?

Yawning from the physiological point of view

The first explanation that science gave to yawning was of a physiological nature. Science proved that it was a mechanism to regulate our temperature. The brain, like the hard disk of a computer, has different ways of warming up.

Gif of a man yawning.


However, in order to keep working, the brain needs to cool down. Yawning is an ideal mechanism for this. When yawning, our  blood flow increases. It’s like a breath of fresh air to the brain.

From the physical point of view, yawning is the brain’s coolant. Thus it contributes to making it more active and efficient. In fact, when you’re distracted and are having trouble focusing, it’s a good idea to yawn repeatedly to activate your mind. Fun facts: as we get older, we yawn less, and babies also yawn in the womb.

A study by Princeton University corroborates this explanation. According to their research, the membranes that protect the sinuses are displaced when yawning. It happens because of how the jaw moves. The movement allows an inflow of extra air to the brain.

Yawning from the social point of view

One fascinating aspect of yawns is that they are contagious. Yes, contagious. When we see a person yawning, we normally imitate them. It’s an automatic mechanism. Did it happen to you when you saw pictures of people yawning here in this article?

A woman yawning.


A study at the University of Leeds in England indicates that yawning means a person is identifying with their environment. It’s not a sign of boredom, but of empathy. The yawner is establishing links with those around him when they yawn. The same thing happens to the person who is “infected.”

However, yawning isn’t contagious in animals. It’s an exclusively human characteristic. It was also found that people with autism aren’t affected by seeing another person yawning.


The emotional and sexual yawn

Studies have shown a relationship between yawning and stressful or threatening situations. It was observed that lemurs yawn very frequently. After analyzing their behavior in detail, it was found that they did it specifically after they had eluded a predator. Later it was verified that they did it also when they detected a threat.

Lemurs yawning.

Researchers came to several conclusions. The first was that yawning reduced emotions associated with stress. In other words, when yawning, the lemurs calmed down. Also, researchers verified that yawning when there’s some danger or threat helps sharpen your senses and puts your brain on alert.

These conclusions also apply to humans. Athletes, for example, often yawn just before a major competition. We’ve observed the same behavior in the military, before and after dangerous missions. Therefore, yawning is also a defense mechanism.

Although it seems hard to believe, yawning also has a meaning within the realm of sexuality. You probably think yawning is not exactly sexy. However, Vrije University of the Netherlands is currently studying the subject. They discovered that people yawn a lot when they are planning to have sex. No conclusions yet, but there seems to be a link.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.